A Response to Richard Mouw's Treatment of Christian Hedonism in “The God Who Commands”
The irony of this interchange is that I love Richard Mouw's focus on "divine command ethics" which makes God the basic criterion of all morality. More amazing than that, I even see Christian Hedonism as one way of formulating Biblical truth as an expression of "divine command ethics." I don't see a contradiction between our two enterprises. So even though Mouw does not like Christian Hedonism and finds it "not very interesting" or "helpful," nevertheless I see us as fighting the same battle for the supremacy of God.
1. The Wider Context of Mouw's Book
Mouw's "main concern in this book [The God Who Commands] is to set forth a case for divine command ethics in the more comprehensive sense" (2.9). What he means by this "more comprehensive sense" is the "sense in which a divine command morality is coextensive with all systems of thought that view God as the supreme moral authority" (2.8). He is arguing that "God possesses the absolute authority to tell us what to do" (19.5) and that the heart of virtue is "moral surrender to the divine will" (2.9).
He devotes himself to explaining and defending this view so that it cannot be written off as "infantile" or "pre-human" or "irrational" or excessively "individualistic" or "arbitrary" or "hierarchical" or "harsh." He sets his position over against views which in their most extreme form say, "There is no room in morality for commands, whether they are the father's, the schoolmaster's, or the priest's. There is still no room for them when they are God's commands" (Graeme de Graff, 7.6).
His hope is not mainly to convince unbelievers "that obedience to divine commands is a 'healthy' way to order one's life . . . [but] that people will see that some of the arguments used against the Christian posture are less than compelling" (20.4).
It seems to me that Dr. Mouw's most fundamental concern is to contend for God as the supreme reference point in all moral considerations. "If there is a God who has publicly announced moral preferences, then those moral publications should function as basic reference points for testing our accounts of moral meaning and value" (41.5).
Mouw is jealous that we not bring to God a view of "pleasure" or "fulfillment" or "self" which we expect God to conform to in deciding what is good for us. We "must acknowledge God's power and right to alter, even in very radical ways, our conceptions of what gives us pleasure" (37.1) We "must be willing to say to God, 'Make me into the kind of self that you want me to be. Transform, if it pleases you, my understanding of what it it is that will bring me happiness" (37.2).
Nevertheless he affirms that it is "not . . . misguided to talk about God's willing our happiness" (37.9). In itself this would not compromise God's supremacy in Christian morality. But Mouw does not find helpful the way I discuss God's willing our joy and our pursuing it. His posture toward the "Christian Hedonism" proposed in Desiring God is this: "Although we may be unable to produce the kinds of arguments that would logically compel [Piper] to abandon his Christian Hedonism, there do seem to me to be some good reasons why other Christians should decline to support his project?" (35.4).
What then are some of these reasons that Christians should decline to support the teaching in the "Christian Hedonism" set forth in Desiring God?
2. Mouw's Critique of "Christian Hedonism"
2.1 Is Christian Hedonism a "Theory of Moral Justification"?
Dr. Mouw's critique of Christian Hedonism as presented in Desiring God occurs in a chapter of The God Who Commands entitled, "Ethics and Worldview." His specific focus in this chapter is to "examine the relationship between the questions of moral justification and an emphasis on the importance of divine commands" (26.6). His thesis in the chapter is captured in the following sentence:
My specific comments here about Piper's account are meant to illustrate a more general point: we ought to be rather tentative in our attempts to link obedience to divine commands to any account of moral justification, even as we refuse to settle for a view that posits too loose a connection between God's will and moral rightness (39.9-40.1).
In other words Mouw wants to warn against linking God's will (expressed through divine commands) too closely with any one theory of how a person determines the rightness of an act (i.e., how one morally justifies an act, as in philosophical hedonism). Christian Hedonism, he says, errs at precisely this point.
Before I give his crucial quotes in support of this indictment, I want to say that I think a fundamental misunderstanding underlies this part of his critique.
The misunderstanding is the assumption that Christian Hedonism is a theory of moral justification. It is not. That may be one traditional meaning of "hedonism"—that pleasure is the sole criterion for moral justification —but that is not the argument of Desiring God, nor is it part of Christian Hedonism. Before I show this, here are the key quotes to show that Mouw puts (and thus misplaces) Christian Hedonism in this category (as a theory of moral justification).
He says that he disapproves of "Piper's attempt to link strict adherence to divine imperatives with a hedonist account of moral justification" (31.2, my emphasis). He says that my five summary statements (DG, 19) "can be seen as filling in the details of the account of moral justification . . ." (31.9-32.1, my emphasis). He refers to Christian Hedonism as one "general theory of moral justification" (33.9, my emphasis).
Thus the basic assumption of his critique is that he is dealing with an attempt to give an account of how acts are morally justified—that is, how they are shown to be right.
But this is not what Christian Hedonism aims to do. Nowhere do I say: an act is right because it brings pleasure. On the contrary I would affirm that the experience of pleasure in an act is by no means sufficient to give it moral justification. The point of Desiring God is not to help decide what acts are morally justified.
The point of Desiring God is to reckon with the radical implications that one of the things that God commands is joy—joy in loving God ("Delight yourself in the Lord," Psalm 37:4) and joy in loving people ("Let the one who shows mercy do so with cheerfulness," Rom. 12:8). My aim is not to decide what is right by using joy as a moral criterion. My aim is to own up to the amazing, and largely neglected fact, that some dimension of joy is a moral duty in all true worship and all virtuous acts.
In other words Christian Hedonism is, one could say, a specific application of Mouw's vision of "divine command ethics." I think I am starting precisely where Mouw starts, namely, with God's absolute authority to tell us how to live. I agree profoundly that God and not man is the supreme criterion of what is right and wrong. And I agree entirely that virtue is essentially "moral surrender to the divine will"—provided one seriously deals with the revolutionary connotation in the word "surrender" when one realizes that we must surrender fundamentally in all other surrenderings to the foundational divine command to be happy in God.
Christian Hedonism simply reckons radically with the largely ignored fact that "the God who commands" commands joy. Christian Hedonism is an extended Biblical reflection on the implications of "surrendering" to the divine command to pursue pleasure in love to God and love to people. I do not come to the Bible with a hedonistic theory of moral justification. On the contrary I find in the Bible a divine command to be a pleasure-seeker —that is, to forsake the two-bit, low-yield, short-term, never-satisfying, person-destroying, God-belittling pleasures of the world, and to sell everything "out of joy" (Matt. 13:44) in order to have the kingdom and thus "enter into the joy of [our] Master" (Matt. 25:21,23). Christian Hedonism is not an alternative to Mouw's system; it is the result of taking Mouw's emphasis on divine commands seriously.
For this reason it is baffling to me that Christian Hedonism should come in for such negative treatment in a book entitled, The God Who Commands. I love Mouw's title, and I love his burden to preserve the right and authority of God to be the supreme focus of moral reasoning. I might have entitled Desiring God, The God Who Commands Joy. In short, I am a Christian Hedonist not for any philosophical, or theoretical reason, but because God commands it.
2.2 Mouw's Method of Faulting Christian Hedonism by Associating it with Philosophical Hedonism
It seems, therefore, (since there is such profound agreement between us) that Mouw ran into difficulties when he sought to make his case against Christian Hedonism not by using the arguments of Desiring God, but by associating me with philosophical hedonists and then imputing their teachings to me. The reason I assume this is that he nowhere takes issue with any of my own arguments or exegesis. His approach is to lump Christian Hedonism with other views and then use THEIR statements to criticize Christian Hedonism by association.
2.21 First Example (Hedonism as a Theory of Moral Justification)
For example, as we just saw he treats Christian Hedonism as a theory of moral justification. Here we can simply add that it appears that the reason he does that is because he associates it with other hedonisms. He quotes Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill and then says, "Piper's account of Christian Hedonism is clearly continuous with this tradition" (31.8). Then he simply says that my summary of Christian Hedonism "can be seen as filling in the details of the account of moral justification" (32.1). Mouw could not find in Desiring God any claim to be a hedonistic "account of moral justification" (because it isn't there), and so he lumped the book together with a tradition of hedonistic moral justification and faulted the book by (erroneous) association.
2.22 Second Example (The Missing Crudities of Hedonism)
In another example Mouw claims that Christian Hedonism "fails to address the significant changes that the self undergoes in the pilgrimage of discipleship" (35.7). In other words, the self might start the Christian life being satisfied with escape from hell and then be changed into a self that is satisfied with God. But then he says, "Let me illustrate this by considering a somewhat cruder version of hedonism than Piper's" (35.8, my emphasis). He proceeds to illustrate his indictment of my view with a "name it and claim it" kind of prosperity theology that I explicitly abominate (DG, 163-165). My guess as to why Mouw takes this approach (of guilt by association with "a somewhat cruder version of hedonism") is that he could not find in Desiring God the crudities that he wanted to criticize. The reason, I think, is that they aren't there.
2.23 Third Example (Love Requires the Pursuit of Happiness)
Another illustration of how the guilt-by-association method of criticism has apparently kept Mouw from understanding the teaching of Desiring God is that he explains John Stewart Mill's hedonism as a kind of "mixed hedonism" (mixing the pursuit of pleasure with the proper distribution of pleasure), and then says I do a similar mixing. He gives no illustrations or evidence from the book but restates an argument (33.6) that I do not recognize as my own. Then he says, "The same pattern of argument [which I do not recognize as my own] could be [!] employed in support of Piper's insistence that true happiness requires the love of other human beings" (33.7).
What Mouw apparently does not recognize is this: The statement that "true happiness requires love" may be true, but it is not the heart of Christian Hedonism. The heart of the matter is the converse: that love requires true happiness. The distinguishing thesis of Christian Hedonism (which Mouw quotes on page 32, is this:
To the extent that we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or, to put it positively: the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue.
What should stand out here is that the distinguishing feature of Christian Hedonism is NOT that pleasure-seeking demands virtue, but that virtue consists essentially, though not only, in pleasure-seeking. The thesis says, "The pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all . . . virtue [e.g., love]." It is simplistic, and unfaithful to Desiring God, to reduce the relationship between love and pleasure to the simple statement, "true happiness requires love." The distinguishing thesis is the converse: true love requires happiness.
And the reason I come to this conclusion is that I am operating here not as a philosophical hedonist (as Mouw seems to think), but as a Biblical theologian who must come to terms with divine commands to "love mercy" (not just do it, Micah 6:8), and to "show mercy with cheefulness" (Rom. 12:8), and to suffer the loss of our possessions "with joy" in the service of prisoners (Heb. 10:34), and to be cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), and to make our joy the joy of others (2 Cor. 2:3), and to tend the flock of God willingly and eagerly (1 Peter 5:2), and to keep watch over souls "with joy" (Heb. 13:17.
When one reflects long and hard on such amazing commands, the moral implications are stunning. My chapter on "Love: The Labor of Christian Hedonism" begins by stating the (stunning) thesis: "If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God." This is not a philosophical postulate, but an exegetical conclusion. Mouw's treatment of Christian Hedonism as a species of philosophical hedonism which is trying to "give an account of moral justification" seems to keep him from seeing the essential assertions and exegetical arguments of Desiring God.
2.24 Fourth Example (Happiness is Not the Stuff of God's Glory)
Another illustration of Mouw's missing the point of Christian Hedonism because of treating it simply as another species of philosophical hedonism instead treating it for itself, is the way he handles my understanding of the glory of God. He says that like other "philosophical hedonists" (33.8) I stretch my system to "include items emphasized by other normative theories" (33.9). This runs the risk of stretching my concepts "beyond the point where they are interesting and useful" (34.1). The example, he cites (but without any specific references to the book) is the glory of God.
The problem at this point, he says, is that the undeniable Biblical teaching that God desires to be glorified and that we are called to promote the divine glory "are spelled out by Piper in hedonistic terms" (34.2). Mouw's rendering of my hedonistic spelling out (which I do not recognize as my own exposition of God's glory) is this: "God desires his own happiness and human beings are created in such a way that their deepest happiness is achieved by promoting God's happiness" (34.3). Thus he claims that my view makes happiness the primary "stuff" of glory (34.6). He even says that I "lure [people] into [my] practice of treating . . . 'joy' and 'glory' as virtual synonyms" (38.4).
I can only guess that this mistake is another illustration of faulting Christian Hedonism with what Mouw has learned not from Desiring God but from the philosophical hedonisms with which he lumps Christian Hedonism. I do not make "glory" and 'joy" into synonyms and I do not make the happiness of God the primary "stuff" of his glory. My definition is set forth clearly on page 227:
The term "glory of God" in the Bible generally refers to the visible splendor or moral beauty of God's manifold perfections. It is an attempt to put into words what cannot be contained in words—what God is like in his unveiled magnificence and excellence.
God's glory is the beauty of his manifold (not uni-fold) perfections (his infinite, eternal, and unchangeable being, and his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth). God's happiness is part of his glory insofar as he would be less glorious if, in beholding the fullness of his perfections, he were not infinitely happy with the what he saw.
That I do not reduce the glory of God to his happiness is proved by the fact that on the first page of Chapter One (DG, 23) I speak of God's "enjoyment of his own glory." On page 31 I entitle a section, "God delights in his glory." And on page 33 I say, "This original happiness was God's delight in his own glory." His happiness is not simply his glory. His happiness is a response to his glory, and thus the consummation of that glory.
The reason God's enjoyment of his manifold perfections is important is that it proves the truly satisfying value of those perfections (in all their manifold greatness), and thus provides a foundation for our satisfaction in God's glory. What the Christian Hedonist pursues is the same happiness in the glory of God that God himself has (John 17:26). But neither our happiness nor his happiness is the "stuff" of the glory of God. God's glory is the object of our happiness. It is the art before which we stand delighting in "art for art's sake."
2.25 Fifth Example (Worship and Love Consist Partly in Joy)
Another instance of Mouw's faulting me for things he finds in other hedonisms without dealing with my own views is his treatment of my use of "pleasure" and "happiness" and "joy" on page 38. He says "there are good reasons for objecting to the way in which Piper (like Bentham and Mill) moves back and forth so easily between 'pleasure' and 'happiness'" (38.5).
Before I give the reason Mouw mentions let me just say that the reason I move back and forth between "joy" and "pleasure" and "happiness" and "delight" so easily is simply because the Scriptures do this (both in English and in the original languages): "Thou dost show me the path of life. In thy presence is fullness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Psa. 16:11). The Bible is unabashed in its use of "pleasure" and "joy" and "happiness" to describe both the highest and the most ordinary delights of life.
When Mouw gives his reason for not approving my use of these words, instead of criticizing me directly, he again appeals to what he knows from other hedonisms, and says, "Any genuine version of hedonism will treat pleasure as a 'stuff' for which other goods—learning, sexuality, socializing, and even worship—are instruments of attainment" (38.6, my emphasis). Notice how I am not addressed directly, but only by association with what any genuine hedonism would have to say.
Then he says that this "instrumentalist" view of pleasure is inadequate because some activities are not simply the instruments of producing the "stuff" of pleasure, but rather consist in pleasure. Christian Hedonism, therefore, (by association with the what genuine hedonisms must teach) is indicted as missing this fundamental insight.
My response: Christian Hedonism does not miss this insight; Christian Hedonism is based on it. The chapter on worship (DG, 61-89) is written for this very purpose: to show that worship is not a means to anything else, but is an end in itself, precisely because it consists essentially (though not exhaustively) in heartfelt delight in God himself (DG, 70-75). Worship is not a means to the "stuff" of pleasure. Worship is the manifold expressions of pleasure in God (even in the heartbroken tears that this pleasure is at times scarcely discernible in the heart of the saints).
Similarly in the chapter on love (DG, 89-117) the point is this: Love IS the overflow of pleasure in God. It is not a mere instrument that produces the "stuff" of pleasure (DG, 94-100). This is not an incidental point. It is the burden of these two chapters which unpack the main thesis statement of Christian Hedonism that Mouw cites on page 32.
So it appears again that Mouw has somehow been made blind to my own views by constantly associating them together with other hedonisms and concluding from that association what I must be saying, but in fact do not say.
2.3 The Basic Question: Is Christian Hedonism Helpful
It seems to me that the heart of Mouw's criticism of Christian Hedonism is that it is not a helpful way of viewing the pilgrimage of discipleship. He asks, "Is it helpful to view the Christian's relationship to God as undergirded at every point by the pursuit of pleasure?" (35.7). His answer is no.
The main reason for thinking the vision of Desiring God "unhelpful" is that "such an account does not seem to capture the sense of the loss-of-self themes in the Scriptures. To construe the Christian life as a continuous pursuit of pleasure fails to address the significant changes that the self undergoes in the pilgrimage of discipleship" (35.7).
He points out that what a person thinks about his own self-interest will change with maturing insight. Thus "my understanding of what is in my 'interest' will change (or at least ought to change)" as I mature in the Christian faith (36.3). I may begin the Christian life with superficial notions of happiness and with little knowledge of God and his glory. "In short, I will have a very different notion of what is in my 'interest' than I did in the hour that I first believed" (36.5). "We must acknowledge God's power and right to alter, even in very radical ways, our conceptions of what gives us pleasure" (37.1).
Mouw states his conclusion like this: "I am convinced that the changes in the sense of selfhood that occur between the time of a person's conscious embracing of the Christian faith and the eschatological fulfillment of the earthly pilgrimage are so significant that it is not very interesting [I think he also means "not very helpful"] to view the whole process as undergirded by a pursuit of pleasure or happiness" (37.7).
I disagree with Mouw's conviction that Christian Hedonism is "not very interesting." Whether it is interesting or not is largely settled, I suppose, by whether people take interest in it when they hear it explained. My experience over 20 years is that people find it tremendously interesting. The ongoing sales of Desiring God seven years after publication suggest that many find it interesting. The tremendous impact that it has had in Inter-Varsity suggests that students find it interesting. The eager attention of people at my church suggests they find it interesting.
It may be that I have misunderstood Mouw at this point. Is there a special philosophical meaning for the word "interesting" that I am not aware of? Does he mean to suggest that the teaching put forward in The God Who Commands is more interesting? I am not sure why he uses "interesting" as a category of assessment (34.1, 37.7).
More important is his judgment that Christian Hedonism is not helpful. Here again I disagree. I could argue from the stories of many changed lives. And by "changed" I mean lives becoming radically God-centered (and thus God-satisfied!)—which is the whole goal of Christian Hedonism. But Mouw argues against the helpfulness of Christian Hedonism not by showing that people are not being helped to love God, but by saying it does not capture the sense of the "loss-of-self" themes in Scripture and it does not address the way our self and our view of what makes us happy changes.
My response to this is to protest that Christian Hedonism does capture the true Biblical sense of self-denial and loss of life for the sake of Christ and the gospel. The very creation of a Christian Hedonist is described in terms of radical conversion which requires the miraculous transaction of the Holy Spirit to awaken us from the dead and cause us to "submit ourselves to the authority of Christ and put our hope and trust in him" (49.7). Becoming a Christian Hedonist is a turning away from self and a turning to Christ as our only hope and highest joy. "We are converted when Christ [not our selves] becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy" (53.3).
Serious discussion of self-denial runs throughout Desiring God as a continual reality check on Christian Hedonism (15, 52, 90-92 173, 199-207, 216-219). If I have not "captured the sense" of these themes, it seems right that Mouw should show this and not just say it without evidence. I will only mention here the words of C.S. Lewis as capturing the sense of Jesus' call to take up our crosses and deny ourselves:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny our selves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire (DG, 15.7).
Starting with this exegetical (not philosophical) insight Christian Hedonism wrestles intensely with the Biblical paradox and concludes with Augustine that the Biblical sense of "loss-of-self" themes is something like this:
If you love your soul, there is danger of its being destroyed. Therefore you may not love it, since you do not want it to be destroyed. But in not wanting it to be destroyed you love it (DG 200).
With regard to the indictment that Christian Hedonism "fails to address the significant changes that the self undergoes in the pilgrimage of discipleship," I plead that Christian Hedonism in its entirety IS such an address. Desiring God is not merely a single statement that the pursuit of pleasure is essential for all worship and virtue. It is a 260 page Biblical meditation on the "why" and "what" and "how" of moving from immature delights in lesser gods to the final goal of delighting in God as God.
Christian Hedonism is a relentless plea to grow beyond pleasure in God's gifts to pleasure in God. The thing Mouw says I do not address is practically all I do address. Virtually every chapter calls attention to the fact that we are prone to delight in unworthy treasures, and to the fact that a profound God-given transformation is necessary if we are to delight in the truly great eternal treasure of the triune God. The whole book addresses the problem that Mouw says I ignore, namely, that unbelievers and immature believers are prone to find pleasure in something other than God himself.
For example, in the chapter on Foundations I direct attention to God's happiness in God as the model for our happiness (31.2). In the chapter on Conversion I argue for a radical break with old pleasures and define conversion as "Christ becoming for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy" (53.3). In the chapter on worship I push this to the limit of God-centeredness and argue throughout that "the [mature] heart longs not for any of God's good gifts, but for God himself. To see him and know him and be in his presence is the soul's final feast" (69.9). In the chapter on Love I define love as "the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others" (94-97, 114.8). In the chapter on Prayer I wrestle with the relationship between delight in God's gifts and delight in God himself and conclude, again with Augustine's prayer:
He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake (137).
I could continue, and point out the same thing in every chapter. Mouw says I do not address the problem that at one stage we take pleasure in lesser things, and later we may, by God's transforming power, take pleasure in the greatest things. I respond: Desiring God is one extended address to this very problem. And it is not just an address, it is a passionate plea that people grow up from the gifts to the Giver. And more: it's a plea that thousands awaken to the fact that they may not even be alive to God, but only interpreting natural affections for religious things as though these affections were true Christianity, which they are not.
Therefore I maintain, contrary to Mouw, that Christian Hedonism is indeed "helpful" not only because I have seen it change people into God-centered worshippers and radical, risk-taking missionaries, but also because it captures the heart of Biblical loss-of-self themes ("the one who loses his life will save it"), and because it not only "addresses" the problem of our changing selves and our changing view of pleasure, but it lays bare that process and pointedly indicts our daily idolatries and challenges us at every stage to move further up and further in to "enjoying God (himself) for ever."
2.4 Is Christian Hedonism a Distortion of Historic Orthodoxy?
Mouw attempts to show that historically my view is a distortion of the great creeds. But his attempt seems to me to prove the opposite. He says,
Piper might be able to alter the first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism—so that glorifying and enjoying God becomes glorifying by enjoying the deity—to suit his hedonistic purposes, but it is a little more difficult to alter the opening lines of the Heidelberg Catechism: "What is your only comfort in life and death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ . . ." (36.7).
The remarkable thing about the beginning of the Heidelberg Catechism is not that I can't change it for hedonistic purposes but that I don't have to. It already places the entire Catechism under the human longing for "comfort." The question Mouw must ask is why the framers of this great Catechism would structure all 129 questions so that they are an exposition of the question, "What is my only comfort . . . ?"
To show this structure and the "hedonistic" thrust of it one need only look at the second question and how it provides the outline for the rest of the Catechism. The second question is, "How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou in this comfort (Troste) mayest live and die happily (seliglich)?" Thus the overarching theme of "comfort" is clarified as essentially "happiness," and the entire Catechism is an answer to the hedonistic concern for how to live and die happily.
The answer to the second question is: "Three things: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption."
Then the rest of the entire Catechism is divided into three sections to deal with these three things: "The First Part: Of Man's Misery" (questions 3-11), "The Second Part: Of Man's Redemption" (questions 12-85), and "The Third Part: Of Thankfulness" (questions 86-129). What this means is that the entire Heidelberg Catechism is written to answer the question: What must I know to live happily?
It seems warranted therefore to turn the tables on Mouw at this point and ask why he would think I need to "alter the opening lines to the Heidelberg Catechism"? Why does he not see that the entire Catechism is structured the way Christian Hedonism would structure it (though I might begin like Keach's catechism and ask, "Who is the first and best of beings?")? Why does he see the Catechism as a problem for Christian Hedonism rather than a problem for his critique of Christian Hedonism, since it begins with man's quest for comfort and with the longing to live happily?
He seems to think that I would not answer the first question the way the Catechism does, namely, that "comfort" (and "happiness") are found in not being our own, but in belonging to our faithful Savior. But I love that answer. And I love the rest of it too (which Mouw does not quote) when it says that my comfort and happiness is that
[Christ] with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him."
This is exactly where Christian Hedonism wants to locate our comfort and happiness. I especially affirm with delight the insight that the Holy Spirit does not just make us "willing" to live to God, but makes us "heartily willing" to live to God. The aim of Christian Hedonism is precisely to show that this "heartily" in our living to God is not icing on the cake of obedience but radically essential and therefore to be pursued with passion (Rev. 3:16). This is not philosophical hedonism it is exegetical fruit and historic Christian theology.
It seems to me then that the first two questions as well as the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism do exactly what Desiring God is meant to do: Place all of life under the quest for comfort and happiness, and then show that it can only be found in giving ourselves up heartily (gladly) to God. I can't help but think that if I structured a catechism today the way the Heidelberg Catechism is structured, making all the major headings a response to the question, "What must I know that I may live and die happily?" I would be charged with self-centered revisionist theology and twentieth century accommodation. I am glad that the Heidelberg Catechism was written 400 years ago.
The one sentence that best sums up Christian Hedonism is this: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. If this is true we may not without guilt be indifferent to the quest for that satisfaction. It is a duty. Delight in God is a divine command.
Moreover this is true horizontally as well as vertically. Do you feel more loved when you are visited in the hospital out of pastoral duty or out of pastoral delight (Heb. 13:17; 2 Pet. 5:2)? God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7) and commands us to show mercy with cheerfulness (2 Cor. 12:8) because the joy is an essential part of what makes mercy God-like (Jer. 9:24) and God-exalting (2 Cor. 8:1-2). It is faith that yields love (Gal. 5:6) and it is faith that glorifies God (Rom. 4:20) because faith is essentially being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus (John 6:35; Rom. 15:13; 2 Cor. 1:24). That satisfaction in God frees us from the fleeting pleasures of sin and focusses all worth on God. Not to make such a God-exalting and Sin-destroying satisfaction the passion and goal of life is what Jesus probably means by "lukewarmness" in Revelation 3:16. Not surprisingly therefore Jeremy Taylor said, "God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy" (Deut. 28:47).
Again I affirm the "divine command ethic" of Richard Mouw and urge him to consider that Christian Hedonism is the fruit of faithful meditation on the divine commands to be seek happiness in God and in loving each other.
. Additional texts revealing the divine command of joy in God include Deut. 28:47; 1 Chr. 16:31,33; Neh. 8:10; Psa. 32:11; 33:1; 35:9; 40:8,16; 42:1-2; 63:1,11; 64:10; 95:1; 98:4; 97:1,12; 104:34; 105:3; Isa. 41:16; Joel 2:23; Zech. 2:10; 10:7; Phil. 3:1; 4:4. Additional texts mentioning the dvinine command of joy in loving others include 2 Cor. 9:7; cf. Acts 20:35; Heb. 10:34; 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:2. I agree with Mouw that "we would actually miss some of the divine imperatives which the Bible transmits to us if we only attended to grammatical imperatives" (10.5). He says, for example, "Thus it is accuarate to say that Jesus 'commanded' his disciples to love the Samaritans, even though the words (or their Greek or Aramaic equivalents) 'Stop discriminating against Samaritans' never appear in the Bible" (10.7). Thus there are many texts which reveal the divine "command" to be happy in God and to rejoice in loving service to others even though the "imperative" verb may not be used (cf. Psa. 42:1-2; 1 Peter 5:2).
©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org